What is a guitar lick? Definition and difference with a riff

It's possible that you've run across the word "guitar lick" when reading about the music you play on a guitar. It frequently comes up, and you'll see and hear other guitarists refer to "licks" all the time.

So what is a guitar lick? It is only a brief musical line without a clear context or central subject. This implies that this set of notes, or "lick," can be repeated in other songs or musical compositions.

The same or similar licks may be heard in a variety of tunes and compositions. When playing tunes, solos, or improvising, a guitarist learns a range of licks that may be slightly modified and repeated.

Continue reading to learn more about what is a guitar lick, its significance, and how it differs from a riff. Let's start.

What is a guitar lick?

A brief phrase played over a chord progression is known as a guitar lick. A lick is a group of notes played repeatedly to add flavor to a song or other piece of music.

However, the licks lack a clear concept. Rather than being an entire riff or solo, they are more like a fragment of an idea. Thus, licks are frequently utilized to spice up and add interest to songs. They are frequently referred to as "fills" or "runs" for this reason.

They are used by guitarists to offer variation, alter the tone of a tune, and even create brand-new music.

What is a guitar lick?

Why is called lick?

The reason they are termed "licks" doesn't appear to have a clear-cut explanation. Although its use in relation to jazz may be traced back to 1932, it is extremely probable that it was initially employed in the 1920s.

It's believed that the phrase "lick" was first used to refer to a tiny quantity of playing or notes on the guitar because the word "lick" may indicate "a small bit”. Whatever its source, the expression has persisted and entered the vocabulary we use to talk about guitar music and playing the instrument.

Guitar lick example

BB King - “Thrill Is Gone”

If you want to know what is a guitar lick, the legendary BB King is responsible for some of the finest blues guitar licks. The song “Thrill Is Gone” is a superb illustration of how he uses his guitar to convey his emotions with incredible licks scattered throughout the song.

Dire Straits - “Sultans of Swing”

The Dire Straits song “Sultans Of Swing” is the one to listen to if you want to hear a lot of well-known guitar riffs. The song's two outstanding solos, as well as the licks between each verse, are played by the legendary guitarist Mark Knopfler.

Do guitar licks matter?

Yes, if that were the case, music would be lot more boring! Licks are little embellishments that increase a tune's excitement and curiosity. The type of lick played also works well with a variety of musical styles. There are musical licks, such as funk, rock, and blues licks, that go well with that kind of music.

And within those musical genres, you can hear the same guitar licks being played by several guitarists in various songs. A lick's versatility allows it to be used again or slightly altered by adding and deleting notes and this is an important point to grasp when you want to understand what is a guitar lick.

Guitar lick Vs riff

The role they each perform inside songs is the primary distinction between a lick and a riff. A song or composition's central theme, frequently repeated throughout, is known as a riff. A riff is primarily the song's concept and what most listeners recall.

Guitar lick Vs riff

A lick, on the other hand, is a brief string of notes that is utilized to improve and spice up a song. They are frequently used as quick fillers or while improvising. But unlike a riff, a lick usually isn't as memorable or significant on its own.

A riff can contain both single notes and chord progressions, but a lick often consists of a sequence of single notes, and this is important to understand what is a guitar lick. In essence, licks are the solo patterns utilized as decorations, whereas riffs are the repeating fundamental melodies of songs.

Guitar riff example

Michael Jackson - “Beat It”

One of the most renowned guitar riffs in music history is found in Michael Jackson's hit song “Beat It”, The song's riff, which is catchy and stylish, is repeated several times.

The White Stripes - “Seven Nation Army”

The White Stripes' song “Seven Nation Army” has another well-known riff. The riff's easy-to-remember, rhythmic nature helped it become so well-known; it may be heard in a variety of performances, activities, motion pictures, and advertisements.

Deep Purple - “Smoke On The Water”

The riff from Deep Purple's classic hard rock song “Smoke On The Water” is arguably the most well-known in the whole rock world. You have undoubtedly heard the riff even if you haven't heard the song. It is a superb illustration of what a great riff should be since it is straightforward, catchy, and memorable.

What is a guitar lick - Conclusion

So now you know what is a guitar lick, why we use them, and how they differ from other types of riffs. As we found, the purpose of guitar riffs and guitar licks is highly distinct from one another. Both guitar riffs and licks, though, are essential tools for honing your playing abilities.

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Written by CalypsoRoom Editorial Team
The CalypsoRoom Editorial Team is a skilled and diverse group of writers, researchers, and industry specialists who have access to Calypso's data and information in order to give you broad knowledge about the music industry as well as helpful advice to help you manage your music and dancing career.

Updated January 2023

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